de la Renta, Oscar

views updated May 21 2018

Oscar de la Renta

Fashion designer

Born in 1932, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; married Françoise de Langlade (a fashion editor), 1967 (died, 1983); married Annette Engelhard Reed (a philanthropist), January, 1990; children: Moises Oscar (adopted), Eliza (stepchild; from second marriage), two other stepchildren (from second marriage). Education: Studied painting at Academia de San Fernando (Madrid, Spain).

Addresses: Office—550 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10018-3207.


Worked as a magazine illustrator and illustrator for Balenciaga while an art student; assistant to Antonio del Castillo, Lanvin-Castillo, 1961-63; worked in couture and ready-to-wear at Elizabeth Arden, 1963-65; designer, Jane Derby Designs, 1965-66; founded own company, 1966; introduced first perfume, 1977; began showing his designs in Paris, 1991; signed deal to design two lines for Pierre Balmain, 1992; added Oscar by Oscar de la Renta line, 1996; launched line of lingerie, 1998; launched his first fragrance for men, Oscar for Men, 2000; created furniture line with Century Furniture, 2002; ended deal with Balmain, 2002; launched O Oscar line, 2004; opened first boutique, New York City, 2004.

Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics Award, 1967; Women's Wear Designer of the Year Award, 2000; two additional Coty Awards; honor from the government of the Dominican Republic.


One of the richest Hispanic Americans, Oscar de la Renta is a very successful and popular fashion designer. Best known for his evening gowns, de la Renta expanded his business to include varying priced lines of women's wear, men's wear, accessories, fragrances, household items, perfume, and furniture. De la Renta's clothes are worn by many society women, and he also provided dresses for many First Ladies of the United States, including Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush.

Born in 1932, in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, de la Renta was raised in a middle-class household with his six sisters. His father worked as an insurance executive. When de la Renta was 17 years old, he went to Madrid, Spain, to attend art school. He became a student at the Academia de San Fernando, where he studied painting with Vasques Dias. De la Renta's original goal was to become an abstract painter.

While art had its allure, fashion was also of interest to de la Renta. He liked to buy fine suits, and learned the basics of fabrics and fit during his fittings. To buy the suits, de la Renta began doing illustrations for magazines and for a couture house in Spain called Balenciaga. De la Renta created his first dress on a freelance basis for the daughter of a U.S. ambassador. A picture of the debutante in the dress appeared in Life magazine.

Of this time in his life, de la Renta told Catherine Patch of the Toronto Star, "Soon I found that I was more interested in fashion design than I was in continuing as an illustrator. I think that any experience you have; anything you pay attention to is part of what I call the 'baggage' you carry with you all your life. My early involvement with painting, even the fact that I come from a tropical country, are part of who and what I am today."

De la Renta soon became more interested in designing clothes than painting, and moved into fashion design. While on a working vacation in Paris in 1961, he was hired for his first job at Lanvin-Castillo, where he worked as an assistant to Antonio del Castillo. In 1963, de la Renta moved to the United States to work for Elizabeth Arden. He worked in couture and the ready-to-wear salon.

De la Renta moved to Jane Derby designs in 1965 to work as a designer, though his vision was not fully realized until the end of his tenure with the firm a year later. When Derby retired, de la Renta and colleague Jerry Shaw founded their own company in 1966. De la Renta's first output was a boutique line.

As de la Renta's professional career took off, his personal life also underwent a transformation. He married Françoise de Langlade, the editor of French Vogue, in 1967. Her tastes influenced the way her husband designed clothes and ran his business. The couple was also high-profile socially, and their lives were covered regularly in magazines.

As a designer, de la Renta had his first big success with ball gowns. Many of his first clients were married women of leisure. The simple romantic styles of dresses for them often featured ruffles and bows. De la Renta's styles evolved over time. His lines in the 1970s retained the romantic touch, but with exotic influences such as Russian- and gypsy-themed gowns. He struggled a bit in the mid-1970s when androgyny ruled, and his ideas did not fit the times. However, he did bounce back by the end of the decade.

By 1980, de la Renta's company was doing about $200 million worth of business. One very successful product produced by de la Renta was perfume. He introduced his first perfume in 1977, and regularly added new fragrances over the years. They included Oscar de la Renta Esprit de Parfum in 1988, and both Volupte and Ruffles in 1992. In 2000, he launched his first fragrance for men called Oscar for Men. New perfumes for women called Intrusion and Rosamor were introduced in 2002 and 2004, respectively.

De la Renta's personal life evolved in the 1980s. His wife died of bone cancer in 1983. Shortly after her death, de la Renta adopted a son, whom he named Moises Oscar, on his own. He found the boy in his native country though an orphanage/day care center named Casa de Niños that he funded and remained actively involved with. The center gave children who lived in poverty a place to go and parents a place to leave their children in safety. As soon as he saw the boy who became his son, de la Renta became extremely drawn to him and despite the fact that friends were against the adoption, the designer took the child home as his own.

De la Renta's business continued to grow in the 1980s. His evening gowns moved away from the ruffled, romantic look and became even bigger, bejeweled, and full of glamour. However, de la Renta realized that his core audience was changing to career women who need to look good for night and day. While they wanted to be feminine, the clothes had to fit their needs. To that end, he created new styles of day suits for women which became quite colorful. Quilting, close cuts, and bold coloring became trademarks of his pieces in this time period.

By 1985, de la Renta's fashion business was worth $250 million. Part of the increase came from the success of new product lines. He added more day wear and ready-to-wear items as well as a cheaper Miss O line to appeal to less prosperous consumers. The de la Renta name was also put on accessories and linens.

Sales of de la Renta's products greatly increased in the late 1980s. He had one of his best years ever in fashion in 1988, doing about $400 million of business annually. In 1989, his licensed goods alone brought in about $500 million on the retail level. De la Renta did not just dominate in the business sector. In this time period, he served as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

After marrying for a second time in January of 1990 to Annette Engelhard Reed, a philanthropist and socialite, de la Renta continued to grow in business. In 1991, he built on the success he had with fashion in the United States by becoming the first major American designer to show his work in Paris. De la Renta's debut in Paris for the fall 1991 season was a hit. He focused on light, wearable pieces, many of which featured plaids. In 1992, checks dominated his pieces. With this success, de la Renta was essentially on top of the American evening wear market.

De la Renta's business continued to expand in the early 1990s. In 1992, he signed a deal with the Paris-based house of Pierre Balmain to create two lines, couture and a ready-to-wear line called Ivoire. (De la Renta did not have his name on his label.) This deal made de la Renta the first American to design for the fashion house, but did not preclude the continuation of his own business or designing under his own name.

De la Renta was up to the challenge of reviving a house that had always been important but never at the top and that had suffered from major financial losses. Martha Duffy of Time wrote, "Oscar, as everybody calls him, fits perfectly into the Balmain aesthetic. He is not an innovator—his few enemies call him a copyist—but he executes gorgeous costumes and with a peerless eye for fabric, detail, and nuance."

De la Renta's first show for Balmain came in February of 1993, featured spring wear, and was well-received. The pieces were very wearable, elegant, contemporary, and sexy with polished touches. De la Renta continued to produce several lines a year for Balmain until 2002.

Though Balmain remained a priority for de la Renta, he did not neglect his own company. He continued to show his own designs in Paris in the early 1990s, but moved his shows back to New York City by the middle of the decade. De la Renta also added more product lines to the company. In 1996, to expand his appeal, he began creating a bridge sportswear line for women called Oscar by Oscar de la Renta. These clothes were less expensive than many other lines produced by him.

While all of de la Renta's lines took on a new, more simple aesthetic in the 1990s to reflect the style of the times, his pieces remained flattering. Though de la Renta's clothes always remained popular, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, his work became the preferred wear of American First Ladies. De la Renta had dressed First Lady Nancy Reagan in the 1980s, then provided the gowns for inaugural events for both Hillary Clinton in 1997 and Laura Bush in 2005. Clinton also wore his designs for other big events during her husband's presidency, including a speech to the Democratic National Convention in 1996, and after she became a senator in 2000.

By 1997, all of de la Renta's businesses were worth $500 million. While his fashions remained profitable, he was making more from his related lines, including accessories and perfumes, than his clothing. In 1998, he launched a line of lingerie, as well as petite division for Oscar by Oscar de la Renta, then plus sizes in 1999, both of which proved very popular. Other products that carried his name included eyewear, swimwear, handbags, and men's accessories. De la Renta continued to design two men's lines, the more expensive Oscar de la Renta Pour Homme, and the less expensive Oscar de la Renta.

In early 2000s, de la Renta entered his seventies, yet remained a vital designer who still enjoyed designing clothes. He continued to show his designs in the United States to good reviews, and his gowns remained in demand. His 2001 fall-winter collection featured some gowns that updated the "Dynasty" gowns from the 1980s in a restrained yet opulent way, while his 2004 collections featured Spanish touches. He always produced feminine clothes that appealed to a higher-end audience. Nancy Kissinger told Julia Reed of Vogue, "Oscar is the only one left who makes practical clothes. They fit the times; they fit people's lives."

De la Renta added his name to a whole new business in 2002: furniture, a new frontier for fashion designers. He put together a collection of 100 pieces for Century Furniture that featured dining tables as well as upholstered chairs and couches. He also expanded his fashion lines. In 2004, de la Renta added an even less expensive line of clothing called O Oscar. He wanted to attract new customers, women whom he could not reach before, despite the risk that it could lessen the value of his brand as a whole. The line was sold in mid-level department stores. De la Renta also opened his first boutique, located in New York City, in November of 2004.

As de la Renta grew older, his family became more involved in with his business. His stepdaughter, Eliza Bolen, worked for him overseeing some of the licensed products, while her husband became the company's chief executive officer in 2004. Even de la Renta's son Moises decided on a career as a designer. He dropped out of college and wanted to make his own name in the fashion world. He began with a T-shirt before moving on to a small collection of denim in 2005.

The heart of de la Renta's business remained the designer himself. InStyle wrote, "The name Oscar de la Renta is so lushly rhythmic that even women who own nothing more than his perfume spritz it with the confidence of knowing that these six melodious syllables ensure entrance into a world of limitless grace and polish. After more than 30 years on and around Seventh Avenue, his presence is proof that a man can possess impeccable taste and manners without displaying the slightest trace of dandyism and also design unrepentantly feminine clothes without ever misreading the desires of today's women."



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Women's Wear Daily, January 2000, p. 73.


"Oscar de la Renta's Fashion Dynasty,", (April 12, 2005).

—A. Petruso

de la Renta, Oscar

views updated May 08 2018

de la RENTA, Oscar

Dominican designer working in New York

Born: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 22 July 1932. Education: Studied art, National School of Art, Santo Domingo, 1950-52; Academia de San Fernando, Madrid, 1953-55. Family: Married Françoise de Langlade, 1967 (died, 1983); married Annette Reed, 1989; children: Moises. Career: Staff designer under Balenciaga, Madrid, from 1949; assistant designer to Antonio Castillo, Lanvin-Castillo, Paris, 1961-63; designer, Elizabeth Arden couture and ready-to-wear, New York, 1963-65; partner/designer, Jane Derby Inc., New York, 1965-69; designer/chief executive, Oscar de la Renta Couture, Oscar de la Renta II, de la Renta Furs and Jewelry, Oscar de la Renta Ltd., from 1973; introduced signature perfume, 1977, followed by Ruffles, 1983, and Volupté, 1991; owner, de la Renta specialty shop, Santo Domingo, from 1968; designer, couture collection for Balmain, from 1992. Exhibitions: Versailles 1973: American Fashion on the World Stage, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1967, 1973; Coty Return award, 1968; Neiman Marcus award, 1968; Golden Tiberius award, 1969; American Printed Fabrics Council "Tommy" award, 1971; Caballero of the Order of Juan Pablo Duarte, and Gran Comandante of the Order of Cristobal Colón, Dominican Republic, 1972; Fragrance Foundation award, 1978. Address: 550 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10018, U.S.A. Website:


On de la RENTA:


Morris, Bernadine, and Barbara Walz, The Fashion Makers, New York, 1978.

Diamonstein, Barbaralee, Fashion: The Inside Story, New York, 1985.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, Couture: The Great Designers, New York, 1985.

Perschetz, Lois, ed., W, The Designing Life, New York, 1987.

Coleridge, Nicholas, The Fashion Conspiracy, London, 1988.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York, 1989.

Martin, Richard, and Harold Koda, Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western Dress [exhibition catalogue], New York, 1994.

Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.

Carrillo, Louis, Oscar de la Renta, Austin, Texas, 1996.


Greenstein, S., "The Business of Being Oscar," in Vogue, May 1982.

"Françoise de la Renta," [obituary], in Variety, 22 June 1983.

Kornbluth, Jesse, "The Working Rich: The Real Slaves of New York," in New York, 24 November 1986.

Bentley, Vicci, "King of Ruffles," in Woman's Journal (London), November 1987.

Gross, Michael, "A Fitting with Oscar," in New York, 18 April 1988.

Howell, Georgina, "Charmed Circles," in Vogue, September 1989.

Hirshey, Gerri, "The Snooty Dame at the Block Party," in the New York Times Magazine, 24 October 1993.

Schiro, Anne-Marie, "Tasteful Comes in Many Colors," in the New York Times, 4 November 1994.

Beckett, Kathleen, "Runway Report: My One and Only HueOscar de la Renta," in the New York Post, 4 November 1994.

"New York: Oscar de la Renta," in WWD, 4 November 1994.

"New York: Oscar de la Renta," in WWD, 7 April 1995.

Brown, Jeanette, "From Looking Good to Doing Good," in Business Week, 9 November 1998.

"The Look of Oscar de la Renta," in InStyle, 1 February 2001.

Horyn, Cathy, "Creating a Fantasy Life Beyond the Seams," in the New York Times, 14 February 2001.

Lockwood, Lisa, "Oscar's Evolutionary Theory," in WWD, 13 June 2001.

"Oscar's Winners," in Town & Country, July 2001.

"Casa de la Renta," in InStyle, 1 August 2001.

"Fashion of the Times," in the New York Times, Autumn 2001.

"Fall 2001 Ready to Wear," available online at, 28 October 2001.


Although he was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to New York at the age of 30, Oscar de la Renta has become a great ambassador for American fashion. His appointment as designer to the French couture house of Pierre Balmain in 1992 was a historic occasionthe first time an American designer had been commissioned by French haute couture. The choice in many ways reflected the growing eminence of New York as a fashion force and the international status of American designers.

As a designer, de la Renta has inspired many international trends. During the 1960s, his clothes were elaborate and witty parodies of experimental street fashion: jackets and coats of bandanna-printed denim, embroidered hot pants under silk minidresses, or caftans made out of silk chiffon and psychedelic silk saris. He was largely responsible for initiating the ethnic fashion of the 1970s with gypsy and Russian fashion themes incorporating fringed shawls, boleros, peasant blouses, and full skirts. In the 1990s de la Renta was popular for his romantic evening clothes, glamorous, elegant, and made from richly opulent fabrics such as brocade, transparent chiffon, fox fur, ermine, and embroidered faille.

Throughout his career, de la Renta has concentrated on simple shapes and silhouettes to create dramatic and flashy statements. He has an inherent feeling for women's femininity and established fashion classics, such as variations of his portrait dresses in taffeta, chiffon, or velvet with ruffled necklines or cuffs, or his ornate luncheon suits, embroidered in costume jewelry and gold. Since founding his own company in 1967 to produce luxury women's ready-to-wear, de la Renta expanded to create jewelry, household linens, menswear, and perfumes. These products are marketed and sold all over Europe, Asia, and South and North America.

The designer had a well-traveled international fashion pedigree before establishing his own label business. He studied art at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid and began sketching for leading Spanish fashion houses, leading to a job at Balenciaga's Madrid couture house, Eisa. A move to Paris in 1961 brought him work as an assistant to Antonio De Castillo at Lanvin-Castillo. He moved with Castillo to New York in 1963 to design at Elizabeth Arden. Joining Jane Derby Inc. as a partner in 1965, he began operating as Oscar de la Renta Ltd. in 1973.

His first marriage to the late Françoise de la Langlade, editor-in-chief of French Vogue, in 1967 was an undoubted asset to de la Renta's business. Together they created soirées that were the equivalent of 18th-century salons. The environment enhanced the wearing of an Oscar de la Renta creation and provided valuable publicity, with frequent mentions in society columns. He has not forgotten his Dominican associations though and has been honored as its best-known native son and one of its most distinguished citizens with the Order de Merito de Juan Pablo Duarte. He also helped build a much needed school and daycare center in the republic for over 350 children.

Still designing in New York today, de la Renta continued to redefine American elegance with his famous womenswear line, Signature; the couture line, Studio; his ready-to-wear, and a range of sophisticated dresses and suits known as Miss. When in 2001 a signature line of accessories by de la Renta made its debut on the New York fashion scene, the designer was asked once again to describe the forces that influenced his design and sensibility. He told the New York Times ' "Fashion of the Times" column about the two places he lived as a child and young man, the Dominican Republic and Spain, and how they dramatically affected his work: "From my island side comes my love for the exotic, for color and light. From my Spanish side comes my love of gypsies and bullfighters," he said. And indeed, the new line of accessoriesbags and shoes, boots and beltsrepeats motifs familiar in de la Renta's earliest designs.

The drama and sexiness of high fashion is not ignored even in the simplest accessory. There is, after 36 years of design, a kind of rebirth for de la Renta in his accessories collection: "As clothes become more minimalist, you can tell who a woman really is by her accessories." And de la Renta's signature formula of casual, feminine, graceful, and comfortable yet elegant clothes prevails. If a design itself is very simple, then the materials used are luxurious. Utilitarian boots, for example, take on an entirely new status with heavy embroidery. If a particular design is complicated, then de la Renta edits the colors or the fabrics to produce a consistently wearable and classic line of clothing and accessories.

In 2001 de la Renta launched a fall collection for Balmain combining his love of the ethnic influence (Spanish-Russian) with hot colors and sleek sophisticated styling. Oscar de la Renta continues to be a major presence in the contemporary fashionable world.

Kevin Almond;

updated by Kathleen Bonann Marshall

de la Renta, Oscar

views updated Jun 27 2018


Born in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, on 22 July 1932, Oscar de la Renta traveled to Madrid when he was eighteen to study art at the Academia de San Fernando with the intention of becoming a painter. His career in fashion began when Cristóbal Balenciaga was shown some of his fashion illustrations, which led to a job sketching the collections at Eisa, Balenciaga's Madrid couture house. In 1961, eager to move to Paris, de la Renta went to work as an assistant to Antonio Castillo. Moving to New York in 1963, he was invited to design a couture collection for Elizabeth Arden. He later joined Jane Derby, Inc., as a partner in 1965 and founded his own company in 1967 to produce ready-to-wear.

Also in 1967, de la Renta married Françoise de Langlade, editor-in-chief of French Vogue. Together they became part of New York's fashionable social scene, often appearing in the society columns and giving valuable publicity to the label. His clothes initially showed the influence of his time at Balenciaga and Castillo: daywear of sculptural shapes in double-faced or textured wool that were cut to stand away from the body. It was also during his time at Lanvin that he developed his talent for creating feminine, romantic evening wear, which has remained his trademark.

In 1966 de la Renta became inspired by young avantgarde street fashions and produced minidresses with hotpants and embroidered caftans. However, his love of the exotic and the dramatic soon surfaced, and by the 1970s he was one of the designers to tap into the desire for ethnic fashion, inspired by the hippie movement with its appropriation of other cultures. His embroidered peasant blouses, gathered skirts, fringed shawls, and boleros became part of mainstream fashion for the rich and the leisured. When in the 1970s the midiskirt was introduced, it was received with ambivalence and Oscar de la Renta was one of the designers to resolve the hemline quandary by incorporating trousers into his collections. The prevailing attitudes to women wearing trousers became much

more relaxed as he and other designers sought to give panache to what was then only associated with casualwear and informal occasions. His evening wear in many ways continued the tradition of the American "sweetheart" dress, full-skirted, with a fitted bodice and belted waist and big sleeves, very often in a paper taffeta, brocade, or chiffon, and embellished with ruffles.

In January 1981 the inauguration of President Reagan reintroduced the notion of formal dressing and entertaining to Washington, D.C., replacing the southern homespun style of the previous incumbents of the White House, the Carters. Charity balls and black-tie dinners gave society every opportunity to dress up in lavish ball gowns, following the lead of the impeccably groomed Nancy Reagan. There was a new appetite for the luxurious and the ornate. Oscar de la Renta anticipated the change, remarking, "The Reagans are going to bring back the kind of style the White House should have" (Kelly, p. 259).

As one of the First Lady's favorite designers, and alongside Adolfo Domínguez, James Galanos, and Bill Blass, he was favored with invitations to state dinners. It was a period when designers became part of the social scene, invited as guests to the grand occasions for which their clients required clothes.

De la Renta's talents lay in designing and producing spectacular ball gowns and evening dresses, reflecting the 1980s' predilection for ostentatious display and conspicuous consumption that epitomized the Reagan years. From 1980 to 1985 the American dollar had never been stronger, and it was during this period that de la Renta was able to consolidate his business, becoming a multi-millionaire with eighty international licenses from household goods to eyewear. Television soap operas, such as Dynasty and Dallas, made universal the desire to dress up in luxurious fabrics and expensive accessories. During the 1980s de la Renta particularly favored the use of black with a single bright color, such as black and bright pink or black and emerald green, with a somewhat narrower silhouette and lavish use of embroidery, passementerie, and beading. Following the ingenue 1960s and hippie 1970s, fashion once more became about glamour for grown-ups. These classic dresses appealed to the more mature, leisured socialites, rather than the working women who were "power-dressing" in Donna Karan.

De la Renta introduced his signature perfume Oscar in 1977, for which he received the Fragrance Foundation Perennial Success Award in 1991. It was his scent Ruffles, however, in a distinctive fluted glass bottle, and produced in 1983, that reflected the ultrafeminine aspect of his clothes. As the advertisement read, "When a woman thinks of Oscar de la Renta she thinks of Ruffles."

Twice winner of the Coty American Fashion Critics' Award, in 1967 and 1973, de la Renta was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame in 1973 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1990

In 2001 the designer was elected to the fashion walk of fame and honored with a commemorative plaque embedded into the sidewalk of New York's Seventh Avenue.

International acknowledgment came with his appointment as designer for the French couture house Pierre Balmain in 1993, the first American designer to be recognized in this way, and a reflection of the growing status of American designers worldwide.

The year 2001 saw the introduction of Oscar accessories—bags, belts, and jewelry, scarves and shoes—that reflect his passion for the ornate decoration of his native country. De la Renta has had a consistently high profile in fashion, from being the favorite designer of film star Dolores Del Rio in the early 1960s to receiving the Womenswear Designer of the Year Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2000, the honor that succeeded the Coty awards. His clothes reflect his passion for the romantic and the exotic resulting from a childhood and youth spent in the Dominican Republic and Spain. De la Renta's strength as a designer has always been his ability to combine his trademark love of the dramatic, with its roots in his Latin inheritance, with the American need for sophisticated elegance.

See alsoBalenciaga, Cristóbal; Evening Dress; Fashion Designer; First Ladies' Gowns .


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Kelly, Kitty. Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography. London: Transworld Publishers, 1991.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1989.

Marnie Fogg